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Paul Travis, InformationWeek
Paul Travis, InformationWeek
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VoIP Gains Ground With Bank of America Deal

Bank of America's large-scale project demonstrates again that the time for VoIP has arrived.

The largest Voice-over-IP business deployment revealed to date presents new opportunities for both the bank that's using it and the services provider that's implementing it. EDS will build a converged voice, video and data communications system for Bank of America Corp. to improve productivity for 180,000 employees working at more than 5,800 locations in 29 states and the District of Columbia, the bank said last week.

Until recently, most business IP telephony installations have been on a small scale, usually involving fewer than 100 employees. The recent adoption of IP telephony by large companies for tens of thousands of workers -- Boeing Co. and Ford Motor Co. among them -- shows that businesses see many benefits from operating a single network for all of their communications needs.

"The principal driver for this move isn't saving money but the potential for new applications that the bank can deploy," says Dave Passmore, research director at IT research firm Burton Group.

Bank of America already outsources its IT infrastructure to EDS under a multiyear, multibillion-dollar contract that calls for the systems integrator to reengineer and manage voice and data services. EDS and networking equipment supplier Cisco Systems will deploy the bank's IP telephony network over the next two to three years.

The new technology will replace more than 360 PBX voice systems. The bank has ordered 180,000 IP telephones from Cisco, which says IP technology will make it easier to provide bank employees with access to integrated data from business applications, develop customized XML-based applications and extend contact-center resources to multiple locations. In the process, more than 100,000 Bank of America employees will get voice mailboxes based on Cisco's Unity voice messaging system.

"A lot of what banks support are call centers, which provide financial advice or answer questions about customers' bank statements," Passmore says. "This technology will let them develop virtual call centers." In that scenario, calls could be routed to experts located anywhere, at lower cost than with a conventional system. Bank of America officials weren't available to provide details on their plans.

The deployment poses a big challenge, as well as an opportunity, for EDS. In 2000, Dow Chemical hired EDS under a seven-year, $1.4 billion contract to build a converged IP telephony system for 50,000 employees in 63 countries. Earlier this year, EDS withdrew from the contract, partly because it lacked the technical chops to build the systems outlined in the deal (see story).

"This is really important for EDS," Passmore says. "Can they step up and support this large of a deployment? If they can do this well, they will see more business from other companies." EDS' largest IP telephony implementation will come as part of an in-progress 360,000-seat Defense Department implementation.

This article originally appeared in InformationWeek, Oct. 4, 2004

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